When the Yankees acquired David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (and Todd Frazier lol) back before the trade deadline I wrote a blog explaining how they might have the best bullpen ever built for October. Three post-seasons ago we saw the Royals change how baseball is played in the playoffs Their three-headed monster at the back end of their bullpen literally shortened the game. If they were able to grab the lead through six innings, it was mostly game over.
Then last year the Cleveland Indians snuck up on everyone with their usage of "relief ace" Andrew Miller. In Game 1 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, manager Terry Francona brought Miller into the game in the fifth inning. At the time Cleveland had a one run lead, and Francona thought the game could be won or lost during the next couple of innings. The move worked perfectly, and the success of the strategy led to Joe Maddon doing the same thing with Aroldis Chapman.
Now here's where the case can be made for the Yankees bullpen being one of the best ever for October. They have four late inning shut down arms, PLUS an Andrew Miller, multi inning type. What if I told you Aroldis Chapman is no longer their best reliever? And that it's not Dellin Betances? Or either of Robertson or Kahnle? What if I told you their best reliever is Chad Green, and that he's already a top five bullpen arm in all of baseball?
Before getting into what makes him special let's check the stats first. Green didn't get to the big leagues this year until May (his sophomore season), but finished his season with 69 innings (nice), 103 strikeouts, 17 walks, and a 1.83 ERA. He also went 5-0. Among all Major League relievers this year Green ranked sixth in WAR, fifth in ERA, fourth in FIP, and third in K%. Think about that last one for a minute. Only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen struck out batters at a higher rate than Green did in 2017.
So the stats back up how good Green is, but what sets him apart from all the other great relieves we are going to see in October? He can (and is willing to) pitch multiple innings in the middle of a game. For example, if Luis Severino is struggling at all tonight, the Yankees don't have to wait for the late innings to bring in a dominant reliever. They can bring in Green to bridge the gap to the rest of the team's All-Star bullpen.
Green pitched in the bigs last year too, making eight starts and four appearances out the pen. He wasn't very good, an finished the year with a 4.73 ERA. So what changed? It's actually pretty simple. By becoming a reliever Green could simplify his approach, and focus solely on his high spin fastball and wipeout breaking ball. He no longer needs a change up, cutter, or any other pitch like that. This simplified approach is helping him with his command. He's throwing pitches in the strike zone, and getting batters to swing and miss at them.
According to this Jeff Sullivan blog from the beginning of September, Green had the ninth lowest in-zone contact % from the past decade, which is a fancy stat that measures the number of swings and misses a pitcher generates in the zone. It's a way to measure dominance. Anyone can get a batter to chase at a curve in the dirt, but it takes a special arm to get batters swinging and missing at pitches that would have otherwise been called strikes.
However, in reality, nobody is ever going to be "the next Andrew Miller". He was just too good in last year's playoffs. Miller pitched 19 1/3 innings, allowed just three runs, had a 40/6 K/BB ratio, and was named ALCS MVP as a middle reliever...that's tough to top. It helped Miller become a household name, and now Green has the same chance to shine on baseball's biggest stage. Of course, if the Yankees lose tonight's Wild Card game then the world will never fully understand how good he is. Regardless, baseball fans of any team should learn the name.